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Posts Tagged ‘Kiln Theatre’

Suzie McKenna’s sensational revival of this 1980’s Sheldon Epps show, first seen in London in 1987, had a short run at Hackney Empire five years ago. It’s now moved West to the more intimate Kiln Theatre with the wonderful Debbie Kurup joining the cast, and it’s even better.

It’s more of a song cycle than a musical, though its surprising how much characterisation there is, with so little dialogue. The songs themselves tell the stories of The Lady, The Woman, The Girl and The Man who are all in residence in a Chicago hotel, three in their rooms and The Man mostly in the bar, with limited interaction between them. The twenty-six songs are more than just blues but they all come from the same period. They include a lot of numbers by Bessie Smith, with others by Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer and many more. Standards like Lover Man, beautifully sung by Sharon D Clarke, Taking a Chance on Love, Baby Doll and Take It Right Back sit side by side with less well known songs.

The four star performances just blow you away. Sharon D Clarke, within days of her last performance of Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic, delivers every song with conviction as The Lady looking back at her life. Debbie Kurup inhabits the troubled character of The Woman and delivers her songs such that we feel her pain. There’s a naivety to Gemma Sutton as The Girl, so vulnerable and needy that you want to protect her. Clive Rowe’s worldly wise The Man struts his stuff without a care in the world. They are accompanied by a superb band led by Mark Dickman, and Avgoustos Psillas’ impeccable sound ensures you hear every word and every note.

Robert Jones’ design and Lotte Collett’s gorgeous costumes locate the show firmly in its place and time, with beautiful lighting by Neil,Austin, and Susie McKenna’s direction and Frank Thornton’s choreography use the space to great effect, with the intimacy bringing something extra.

A faultless production with as fine a set of musical performances as you’ll find on any stage. Absolutely unmissable.

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Samual Adamson’s examination of sexuality and marriage from the late 50’s to the present day uses Ibsen’s play The Dolls House, and its main character Nora, as it’s starting point and it’s both clever and intelligent.

We start in 1959, backstage after a performance of the play when Suzannah, the actress playing Nora, is visited by an acquaintance and her boorish husband Robert. It soon becomes clear that Daisy and Suzannah are much more than acquaintances, but also that Daisy is pregnant. In subsequent scenes we meet a descendent of Daisy & Robert at two points in their life, thirty and sixty years later, with encounters with different Nora’s / Suzannah’s at each point. There’s a nod to the future, but its not particularly well developed.

In effect, we’re moving from marriage as cover story to partial same sex legality (not age or marriage) to the equality we have today. To say more would be to spoil it, but I loved its cleverness and humour. There are great performances from all six actors, who play fourteen roles between them. Richard Kent has kept the design simple to facilitate speedy scene changes within acts and Indhu Rubasingham’s direction seems totally in tune with the material.

The clever structure and humour could have swamped the serious historical examination, but it doesn’t. It added much to making it such a satisfying evening.

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I loved Inua Ellams last play, The Barbershop Chronicles, so much so that I went twice. This is a very different proposition, a storytelling two-hander, a poem really. The staging and performances are excellent, but I’m afraid I failed to engage with the story.

Demi is a Nigerian basketball prodigy. We learn that he is the result of his mother Modupe’s rape by Greek god Zeus, the prize in a bet with a Yoruba god. Demi is therefore a half god, which gives him powers over and above his sporting prowess. When he learns how he was conceived, he’s intent on revenge. Half god v the most powerful god of all.

The performances of Kwami Odoom as Demi and Rakie Ayola as Modupe are captivating, prowling around the stage, very animated. Max Johns’ simple design, Jackie Shemesh striking lighting, Tanuja Amarasuriya’s atmospheric sound design and Imogen Knight’s movement contribute significantly to Nancy Medina’s excellent staging. In the end though it was the story itself which left me cold. The previous play had so much truth, humanity and energy. This just had energy.

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French Playwright Florian Zeller’s work has become a staple of London’s theatre in the last five years. Six of his play’s have had productions here in that period, all translated by Christopher Hampton. This seventh is the third in his family trilogy, following The Mother & The Father which, both first seen in this theatre, we saw the other way round to the order in which they were written. Though I liked the other three, those two stood out for me, and this is a very welcome companion piece.

The son, Nicolas, a teenager, seems badly affected by his parents separation. His dad Pierre has a new wife and baby son and he asks to live with them after his mother Anne struggles to cope when she discovers he hasn’t been going to school. If anything, it’s even more of a challenge at his father’s and he spirals into depression and despair. What at first seems unhappiness at the split proves to be severe depression.

It’s hard to say more without spoiling it, but it is a harrowing journey that shows the damage that can be done at a vulnerable point in a young person’s life, and the agony of the parents who have to deal with it. It doesn’t take sides, and Zeller doesn’t mess with your head as much as he did in The Father, about dementia, and The Mother, who struggles with empty nesting, but he does have a trick or two up his sleeve.

Michael Longhurst’s sensitive production features a career defining performance by John Light, at first unsympathetic, but whose pain you come to feel intensely as he lets go, and a stunning performance that oozes authenticity by Laurie Kynaston as Nicolas. Though the male leads carry the emotional weight of the play, there are excellent contributions too from Amanda Abbington as Nicolas’ mum Anne, who struggles to cope with it all, and Amaka Okafor as Pierre’s new partner Sofia, torn between supporting her man in his support of his son and focusing on their new life and new child.

It’s not an easy watch, but it’s an insightful piece which rewards you with a sense of understanding and appreciation of mental health, as the other two plays had done, and the impact marital separation can have on children.

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This play is the second in a planned trilogy by Ishy Din about the male immigrant experience. For some reason I missed the well-received first part, Snookered, about Asian men born here, when it visited the Bush Theatre in 2012. This is about Asian men who came here, and I’m very glad I caught this one.

It’s set in Teeside in the days between Margaret Thatcher’s death and her state funeral in 2013. Raf and Mansha used to work in a factory making steel bridges. After it closed, Raf bought a minicab firm and Mansha runs it for him. Mansha’s son-in-law Sully is a driver, Raf’s son Shazad is working there during his University holidays and Raf has recruited Sameena, their first female driver, a feisty ex-con who Sully knows and likes but Mansha doesn’t trust.

Raf decides to sell up, but Mansa doesn’t like the sound of his new boss, so he puts together an offer by remortgaging, bringing in Sully with his recently deceased dad’s industrial disease compensation, but it isn’t enough – until Sameena becomes an unlikely third partner using her own inheritance. Raf demands cash and no paperwork, to avoid the taxman, and leaves them with the business books. Their enthusiasm wanes when the books are examined and they find out the truth about what they’ve bought. It goes from bad to worse when they discover who’s backing Sameena, and why. Friends and relatives are betrayed, generations clash and hands are forced.

The first half set-up was a bit slow, but the second half is terrific as it becomes a multi-layered, cleverly plotted piece that takes its hold on you, helped by six excellent performances and a realistic minicab office setting by Rosa Maggiora. A definite recommendation from me.

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I haven’t read Zadie Smith’s 2000 debut novel and I didn’t see the 2002 TV adaptation, so I come to this stage version fresh. It’s also my first visit to the reopened and renamed Kiln Theatre, appropriately located where the novel is set.

The story takes us from 1945, when Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal meet as the war ends and become lifelong friends, to the present day. We follow Archie, his mixed race marriage to Clara, daughter Irie and granddaughter Rosie and Samad and his wife Alsana and identical twin sons Magid & Millat. The twins’ lives take very different parts, one academic, the other radicalisation. There’s fleeting romance between Irie and the twins, with more than a fleeting outcome, and it looks like history might repeat itself with Rosie. There are significant stops in 1975 and through the eighties to 1992, with references to the music, TV and events of the time, like the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I don’t know whether it was Zadie Smith or playwright Stephen Sharkey who had the ideas of Kilburn bag lady Mad Mary as a narrator, and framing the story in flashback with Rosie a dentist, in a coma after an incident. They are both good ideas, though the latter needs more clarity in staging. The addition of songs by Paul Englishby and the excellent movement by Polly Bennett add a playfulness which I very much liked and seemed to suit the sweep of the story. Indhu Rubasingham’s staging has great energy, pace and humour; I particularly liked the walks back in time and there’s an hysterical scene in a hairdressers.  It’s extremely well performed by a uniformly excellent cast.

There’s a limit to how much story you can tell in a couple of hours and adding a significant amount of music reduces it even more, so those who know the book may struggle with the inevitable filleting, and I’m told it has less bite than the novel, but I thought its ambition paid off and it proved to be populist, entertaining fare, a celebration of multi-cultural Kilburn and a welcome part of the reopening season. I’ve been going here for more than 30 years and I very much like the new theatre, though in truth it’s more Islington than Kilburn. I do hope the name change protestors will move on. I wouldn’t have changed it myself, and it could have been handled better, but what matters now is what’s on the stage, and this fits it well, and the future programme is looking very promising indeed.

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